The key challenge facing Lithuania’s future governance and legislation is how we, as a state, are able to meet the needs of citizens and reflect their expectations, according to Dean of the Faculty of Law of Vilnius University (VU) Prof. Tomas Davulis who attended an expert discussion on future governance held by VU and the Government Strategic Analysis Center (STRATA). The event is part of the preparation of the National Progress Strategy Lithuania 2050.
Speaking of governance, the professor first singles out a strategic approach to state development as an alternative to the cyclical, temporary political steps that take place every four or five years. According to Prof. T. Davulis, we must not give in to the conjunctural changes in political forces that may strike our country.
“Governance must also adapt to current events. We see harmonisation processes taking or not taking place within the European Union (EU). A clear vibrato should be maintained by observing the tensions we face and how we can make better use of those changes,” the professor said.
Finally, he said, resilience is once again becoming a very important and necessary aspect because without assurances and guarantees that our society will be able to decide for itself, it will be very difficult to achieve its goals.
“We are faced with the fact that regulation in a small state should probably be a pragmatic, that is, a “sober” approach to the quantity of rules, their qualitative expression of form. So, this automatically presupposes a liberal approach to regulation. This means that, in principle, the rules are followed and relied on only to the extent necessary to reveal the personality and its creative potential,” Dean of the VU Faculty of Law explained.
Too many laws are dangerous
Lithuania is open to innovation, which is the basis for further and faster development. Therefore, the small market of this country can be used to test ideas for the future. For example, an autonomous car has been tested on the streets of Lithuania as it is easier to obtain permits and agree with the authorities on such experiments.
“However, when it comes to legal regulation and how we can implement it, how to create those rules, what everyone’s contribution to the development of these rules is, we could say the legislator should not create so many laws. There should be far fewer of them. The more laws a state has, the more corrupt that state is or the more injustice there is,” the professor said.
According to him, regulation should also be inclusive. This means that society needs to break free from certain shadows of the past that still haunt it: the belief that society is “rightless,” that “politicians do whatever they want.”
“Therefore, inclusion would probably not only defeat those shadows of the past but, in principle, is a condition for the future so that we could make people interested in living in Lithuania. Without that interest, if lack of rights or perspective in governance is evident, it will be very difficult to attract educated, talented people,” the professor said, adding that the more educated, creative people there are, the smaller role the civil service must play.
The COVID-19 pandemic had the greatest transformational potential
How do we build flexible and resilient governance and public institutions for the future in the face of constant changes? According to a professor at the VU Institute of International Relations and Political Science (TSPMI) Vitalis Nakrošis, to answer this question, we need to know what challenges we face.
First, the professor says, comes the Government’s strategic agenda, which consists of the strategic work of the Prime Minister and his team, and that work is very diverse, at some 4 different levels. This agenda sets out strategic directions during the implementation process.
Various crises and other significant events give impetus for various changes. Lithuania has faced many emergencies and crises in the last two decades. Recent events include the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the crisis of illegal migrants.
Prof. V. Nakrošis says that both strategic agendas and crisis situations have transformative potential that should lead to more resilient public governance systems and more innovative public sector organisations; however, this does not guarantee real change. Implementing strategic agendas requires strong and stable political attention, but not all crises are the same. Thus, there is no linear link between strategic agendas, crises, and actual change.
“This is illustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had the greatest transformational potential due to the characteristics of the dangerous infectious disease, its global spread, its socio-economic impact, and the recurring waves of the pandemic, which called for constant changes,” the professor explained.
However, according to him, the results of academic research are mixed: although the EU has seen a new wave of comprehensive and ambitious reforms, especially with new recovery and resilience plans in each EU country, we have also seen a shift from long-term reforms to urgent, short-term ones. And once the pandemic was over, we have seen a return to the reorganisation of current affairs. Thus, crises with high transformational potential are not necessarily the only ones leading to actual change.
Crises bring opportunities
Crises or strategic agendas bring new opportunities. But how do we make use of them? The best answer, according to Prof. V. Nakrošis, would probably be to change one’s mindset. This means changing not only the means for achieving certain objectives but also changing the objectives to transform the content and implementation of our public policies.
What mindset should we develop and what kind of future governance do we need? According to reports from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the ideal public governance of the future requires strategic agile, more flexibility in managing financial and human resources, a shared commitment to work together and joined-up management, cooperation between different state and municipal institutions, as well as collaborative governance and co-production and various digital government tools.
“Academic research shows that the more similar public governance systems were to this ideal model, the better they coped with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. These systems are also more likely to be resilient, i.e., able to prepare for, absorb, recover from and better prepare for future crises,” the professor said.
The VU TSPMI researcher has singled out two main ways for creating a more resilient public governance system. The first is to implement public governance reforms through a managerial and holistic approach, or to carry out reforms as missions through a green course or digital transformation. The second is capacity building in the civil service.
“This is a very important tool for building a more resilient public governance system. International civil service rankings show that it is at the bottom of the rankings in terms of capacity,” the professor said.
During the discussion, a lecturer at VU TSPMI Dr Ieva Petronytė-Urbonavičienė emphasised the importance of citizens’ trust in the state and state institutions. According to her, a state where citizens trust the government and get involved in governance processes is better at managing crises, citizens’ tax morale is higher, and the implementation of adopted decisions is much smoother and of better quality.
According to Dr I. Petronytė-Urbonavičienė, a much more complex issue is building trust in public institutions. One way is to give citizens more opportunities to become more involved in decision-making. She pointed out that trust should be two-way, promoting not only citizens’ trust in the state but also the public institutions’ trust in citizens.
“Building trust in themselves without trusting the people is a fundamental mistake public sector institutions make,” said Dr I. Petronytė-Urbonavičienė.
The State Progress Strategy Lithuania 2050 is being prepared using an innovative Foresight method. The planned duration for the implementation of the strategy is more than twenty years (from 2024 until 2050). The legal draft is to be submitted to the Seimas by 10 March 2023. The Lithuania 2050 Strategy is being developed by the Office of the Government in collaboration with the Seimas’ Committee for the Future, STRATA, and Vilnius University.